Arizona State found its running game, but couldn’t stop Washington in a 27-20 loss Saturday night at Husky Stadium. The Sun Devils have fallen to 2-2 after consecutive losses and opened Pac-12 play 0-1.
1. Tough start. ASU’s first four games looked brutal before the season started. Texas-San Antonio played ASU tough two years ago. San Diego State always plays like a Power 5 team. And Michigan State and Washington were ranked in the top 15. Aside from that, ASU was picked to finish last in the Pac-12 South by reporters who cover the conference. Is anybody surprised that the Sun Devils came out of this stretch 2-2? Or is it more surprising that their two losses have come by just two scores. ASU’s next opponents, Oregon State at home and at Colorado, shouldn’t be nearly as strong.
2. No quit: N’Keal Harry had been bottled up all night, but late in the fourth quarter against Washington, he returned a punt 42 yards, putting ASU in position for the touchdown that would pull the Sun Devils to within one score with three minutes left. ASU couldn’t get the ball back, however, so there was no chance for more Harry heroics. Manny Wilkins said it was the “attitude of this team” to never give up and keep fighting. Could the same be said for previous ASU teams?
Herm Edwards didn’t claim any moral victories, saying that eventually “you gotta make a play.” But he’s encouraged by his team’s spirit. “You can build on that,” he said.
Head coach Herm Edwards discusses ASU football’s loss to Washington in Seattle on Saturday.
3. Defensive deficiencies: ASU allowed 171 yards rushing and 202 yards passing. The Sun Devils’ defense got only one sack for a loss of 2 yards. And aside from a botched trick play — a double pass on the first play from scrimmage that Chase Lucas intercepted — the Huskies did as they pleased on offense, going on five scoring drives of more than 60 yards. ASU may have been able to keep the game close, but couldn’t come up with a play when it mattered most.
“We talked about it all week, getting it to the fourth quarter,” Edwards said. “We wanted to get it into the fourth quarter. We felt that if we got it into the fourth quarter, we could make a play or two and win it. … We got it there, but we just couldn’t finish it off. They wouldn’t allow us to. They made the plays they needed to make. There were a couple of plays where we couldn’t get off the field, where we had ’em in some third-and-long situations on defense and we missed a tackle or whatever happened, and they got out.”
Running it up. The Sun Devils found Eno Benjamin. The sophomore tailback had 104 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. Establishing the run was a priority for Edwards after watching the ground attack go missing against San Diego State and Michigan State.
“We added the power and the counter to our running attack,” Edwards said. “For three days of work, I think those guys did a nice job. The offensive line and (O-line coach) Dave Christensen, have to give him a lot of credit. … I like running the ball. You gotta run it. You run it, you’re a tough football team. The run game travels.”
The strategy helped keep the game close. ASU was nearly even with Washington on time of possession despite being outgained by more than 100 yards of total offense. ASU gained 268 yards. Washington, meanwhile, gained 373.
A huge problem was that ASU couldn’t generate anything through the air. Wilkins went 17 for 27 for just 104 yards. For comparison, he threw for 380 against Michigan State and 341 against San Diego State.
Washington blanketed Harry all night. Harry didn’t catch his first pass until ASU’s third drive. It was a wide-receiver screen that went for 2 yards. His five catches for 20 yards was by far his lowest output of the season. Brandon Aiyuk led the Sun Devils with 36 yards receiving.
Ground up. ASU couldn’t stop Washington’s running attack. Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed combined for 157 yards on 37 carries. The withering ground game opened up the Huskies’ air exploits, thanks to the play-action game.
Quarterback Jake Browning threw for 202 yards and three touchdowns, hitting big plays to Aaron Fuller and Ty Jones after getting ASU linebackers and safeties to bite on run fakes. The Washington offense averaged 13.5 yards per completion.
The Huskies were in such a rhythm offensively that they made 26 first downs, but only five had to come on third down. One touchdown drive covered 75 yards in just five plays.
The Sun Devils also allowed Washington to go 5 for 5 in the red zone, including three touchdowns.
Three-coming an asset. Brandon Ruiz is a weapon. He went 2 for 2 on field goals, hitting from 41 and 48 yards.
Punter Michael Sleep-Dalton averaged better than 38 yards per attempt, but he didn’t pin Washington inside the 10 or otherwise create the sort of field-position advantage that could help swing a tight ballgame.
Harry’s 42-yard return in the fourth quarter would have been a season-defining highlight for any other player. Harry is so good it was almost a surprise that he didn’t score. Harry broke tackles and made players miss from the goal line to midfield, showing the type of grit and skill that has him projected to go in the first round of the NFL draft.
ASU (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12) hosts Oregon State at 7 p.m. Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium. The Beavers (1-3, 0-1) lost at home to Arizona 35-14 to open Pac-12 play.